First, let me apologize for my absence. I got caught up in Minor League playoff fever -- and who can blame me for that?
Now the 2006 season is over, at least on the Minor League side of things. Anyone who was going to get a callup is now up. You're getting a nice sneak peek at some good rookie potentials for your 2007 draft. But how can you tell which callups are for real and which ones won't be worth looking at come draft time next season? How can you differentiate between the Troy Tulowitzkis of the world and the Devern Hansacks?
That's where I come in. The following is a primer, a look at some of the best names you'll want to have on your "rookie sleeper" list for 2007, complete with the top picks and some lesser-known names you can pull out to wow your competitors at the draft.
I'm not including high-profile callups like Matt Garza and Jason Hirsh. By now, you know about guys like this. You'll also notice that Delmon Young does not appear on the list below. That's because if you don't know who he is or that he's going to be a fantasy star for a long time, you shouldn't be allowed to run a fantasy team. Now, without further ado, my 2007 watch list, in alphabetical order.
Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds:
Kudos to Cincy for not giving in to the temptation of bringing him up this year. Close to 140 innings across two levels was enough for the 20-year-old. That doesn't mean he shouldn't get a long look after posting a .198 opposing batting average and a 10.13 K/9 rate in 2006.
Ryan Braun, 3B, Brewers:
He might need a touch more time in the Minors after his first full season, but he did hit .303 with 15 homers in 59 games after his promotion to Double-A. The Brewers don't have a real option at third, so a strong AFL season from Braun could catapult him into a job.
Billy Butler, OF, Royals:
His bat is ready for the bigs right now; it's just a question of if he can be okay in the outfield. The guy volunteered to go to instructs just to improve his defensive play, so he'll be in line for a 2007 shot.
Scott Elbert, LHP, Dodgers:
There's a lot to like about the 21-year-old southpaw, from the opposing batting average (.190) to the K's (173 in 146 IP) across two levels. The one thing that could hold him back is command -- he walked 85 -- but if he can continue his development in the Arizona Fall League and get a good start to 2007 in the Minors, he could be next year's version of Chad Billingsley. So maybe you don't worry about him at draft time, except in those deep, NL-only leagues.
Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox:
This one is interesting. Fields is ready after hitting .305 with 19 homers and 28 steals in Triple-A. But there's a Crede-sized roadblock. The Sox third baseman (Crede) is arbitration eligible for the last time and will be hitting new tax brackets, so Chicago has to decide what they want to do with him. Fields is headed to Venezuela this winter. Watch the boxscores to see if he sees any action in the outfield, a possible destination for him in 2007.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals:
I know, he didn't get called up this September. And I know, Mark Teahen really came into his own. But how often does a potential 20-20 third baseman come along? The Royals will have to make room for him soon somewhere and you don't want to be left out in the cold when he arrives.
Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals:
Kansas City has been known to be gruelingly patient with its offensive prospects. The Royals can't really afford to be with the few pitching prospects they've got. Granted, they've improved in that regard, bringing in some arms, but they didn't draft Hochevar No. 1 to coddle him. Even if he starts the year in the Minors, he'll be in KC before long.
Philip Humber/Jeff Niemann, RHP, Mets/Rays:
All they need is Wade Townsend to make the Rice University trio complete, but he's a bit behind on the injury comeback trail. Both have had arm problems, both have come back strongly this year, both should contribute in 2007. If you had to pick one from the get-go, I'd probably go with Humber, though the Rays are more pitching-needy. If healthy, both should put up some good numbers in the near future.
Chris Iannetta/Miguel Montero, C, Rockies/Diamondbacks:
Didn't think I'd go without mentioning some catchers, did you? Both have gotten a taste this September after both played at two levels in 2006. NL-only participants should really take note. I'd give Iannetta the edge right now, both because of the ballpark and the opportunity: He'll be the starter next year, while Montero will have some competition.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B/1B, Indians:
With Andy Marte likely entrenched at third for the next long while, the Indians are trying to move Kouzmanoff around to find him ABs. That's the good news, that they're trying. He could end up sharing time at first with Ryan Garko (though Victor Martinez could move there), at DH with the same guys, playing a little at third to spell Marte, who knows, maybe he finds some time to play the outfield. He's definitely a sleeper on this list, but you can't ignore a guy who hit .379 this year with power and hasn't hit below .330 at any full-season stop along the way in his Minor League career.
Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays:
While he isn't your typical high-profile prospect, Lind has certainly hit like one. He hit a combined .330 in the Minors with 24 homers. Even better, he improved as he moved up a level, hitting .394 in Triple-A over 34 games. And he's hit .358 in 15 games with the Jays since his callup. I can't see any reason why he wouldn't be in the Jays' everyday lineup next year.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Devil Rays:
This is another "Where will he play" conundrum, but if he keeps hitting like he did in his debut, the Rays will find room for their 2006 first-rounder. The power was a little surprising, with 18 homers and 14 doubles in 62 games, so we may need to see if he can duplicate that in 2007. After slowing down a little in Double-A, he then hit .345 with three homers in the Southern League playoffs, so here's betting it wasn't a fluke. He played third this year, but can play short and second. There are potential roadblocks at each position, so he could start the year in Durham, but methinks he won't be there long.
Adam Miller, RHP, Indians:
Miller has had to re-establish himself as a top prospect because of injury problems, but he did that this year, striking out more than a batter an inning and throwing nearly 160 innings. I could see him starting the year in Buffalo, but he'll get the call sooner rather than later and still has the stuff to dominate.
Micah Owings, RHP, Diamondbacks:
In just his first full season, Owings made it up to Triple-A, won the Triple-A Championship Game and went from May 17 to the end of the season without a loss. He's not as overpowering as the other arms on this list, but this was also his first full year of being a pitcher only after being a two-way star in college. He will get a long look in Spring Training next year.
Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Mets:
Pay no attention to the numbers from his brief 2006 debut. Pelfrey has the stuff and command to succeed in New York and should provide a very nice young tandem with Humber next year, and in years to come.
Felix Pie, OF, Cubs:
Pie didn't get a callup this September, instead heading to Arizona to work on his baserunning. That could be a good thing for fantasy players. Pie's got speed, but was only 17-for-28 in stolen-base attempts in Triple-A this year. He did start to show some power, with 15 homers and 33 doubles. He'll be just 22 next year and when he puts it all together, look out. I'm not sure where there's room for him in the Cubs' outfield, so for now he stays on the deep sleeper list.
Juan Salas, RHP, Devil Rays:
I had to include one "closer of the future" type on this list. Salas is very interesting and you shouldn't pay attention to the fact that he's 27. He's a converted position player who started pitching in the middle of the 2004 season. This year, he saved 17 games and had a combined 0.71 ERA in Double and Triple-A, before pitching well in a late callup with the Rays. He struck out 85 in 63 1/3 Minor League innings while allowing just 28 hits (that's a .128 opposing batting average, for those of you scoring at home). Tampa doesn't exactly have an established closer, so you might as well keep an eye on this guy.
Humberto Sanchez, RHP, Tigers:
It's all a question of health for the right-hander and he was throwing well in side sessions at the end of the year, giving folks in the organization reason to hope he'll be good to go next year. When he's on, Sanchez is virtually unhittable and his overall stuff is up there with Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. As good as Wil Ledezma and Nate Robertson have been this year at the back end of that rotation, Sanchez has the chance to be a strikeout pitcher right off the bat.
Ryan Sweeney/Jerry Owens, OF, White Sox:
Clearly, the Brian Anderson thing didn't work, at least not in 2006. The Sox may give him another shot, but they certainly won't be handing him a job next year. Sweeney's gotten a look this year, but I don't really see him as a center fielder long-term. He began adding the power people were looking for this year and he'll be just 22 next season. Owens will be 25 and he scuffled early on, otherwise you would've seen him earlier in Chicago. While Sweeney may have the better upside as an overall player, as a fantasy enthusiast, you may want to root for Owens to win a job. He stole 40 bags in 112 Triple-A games this year and that kind of speed is hard to come by these days.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies:
Colorado was smart to call Tulo up to see what they had in store for 2007. He's done nothing to indicate he's not ready for the bigs full-time next year. I'm not sure he'll put up monster numbers -- he's more of a real solid guy with some pop -- but as a late-round pick or as a backup middle infielder, you could do a lot worse.
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